Friday, October 21, 2005

The Range of My Reading

David Lodge famously invented a party game in "Small World" where professors of literature admitted to the books they hadn't read. Its a parlous game really. Failure to read "Hamlet" was the crime too far there. Recent posts here and elsewhere about post-war British fiction remind me of how Gertrude Stein had worried that she was reading so fast through the books she came across that she would eventually run out. It explains the length of "Making of Americans" anyway! More importantly, I guess, is that tomorrow is always more overrun with books than yesterday. One's range of reading, moreover, increases. There was clearly a border to my reading when I was eleven, and if Enid Blyton was inside it, then Jules Verne and Agatha Christie may have been just over it. No matter, you get to 16 or so, and you can dispense with borders entirely. Yet the range of one's reading is never so great as then - with so much unread, that you have to devour. There's still the unread of course, I'm shamefully only just getting round to "Bleak House" (the BBC are serialising it next week and damned if I'm going to get hooked on the TV adaption), and wonder if the Divine Comedy or Faust will ever be opened. As a writer, range is important for a number of reasons. You'll learn more about suspense from Stephen King, or pacing from John Grisham than any Don DeLillo or Virginia Woolf, and more about other things (naturally) from those two. If scientists still believe in God because as they find out more about the universe they discover the range of their ignorance, then a reader-writer gets to a point, I think, of no return. I've read "Hard Times" thank you, so "Bleak House" will hold few surprises; I've read "Birthday Letters" so who needs the collective Hughes? Sometimes it seems that I've created my own "fast forward" button for fiction and poetry, reading about it, or skimming anthologies of it. The devil as always is in the detail; however much I know from the outside about a book or a poem, it is the wonder of both, that they are not really paraphrasable. And that lack, thankfully, still can give pleasure. If I sometimes lack patience with the book I'm reading, its because I am reminded of all the ones I'm not. There's plenty to read, to watch, to listen to. I've been edging towards buying some Elliot Smith for a while, and picked up 3 of his albums recently, all excellent and all very different. I was listening to one just and thought I'd see what other albums he'd got, and it turns out today was the anniversary of his death. Having been to a friend's funeral last Monday, there's added poignancy I guess.

No comments: